A Student of Fear: A Mama's Thesis
“If I passed this test, that would mean I would be free to register for class. If I registered, I would be a student again, for the first time in nearly 20 years, pursuing my master’s degree.”

If someone were to tell me that I was a brave, courageous, person, I would most likely shrug it off and say that I just make it a point to do whatever I need to do.

I walked away from almost 10 years of marriage because I was desperately unhappy, left a job that I’d had forever, and eventually applied for another one, went for the interview, was hired on the spot, and moved 1,000 miles away from home, just like that.

It might seem brave, but I had to do it. For my happiness, for my sanity.

I decided to give things a go with the boy I loved in high school and now, five years later, (or 20 years later, depending on how you’re counting that?) here we are with a two-year-old son. I’ve written four novels and hundreds of posts about motherhood and parenting, and some people would say that I’m brave for putting myself out there. I guess I get that. It’s terrifying to pour yourself out onto paper for millions of people to read.

I’m proud of myself for everything I’ve done. Walking away and walking towards my happiness. Writing my heart out. Making a family with a man that is my rock, my support system, my best friend, and someone who sees me and knows me better than I know myself.

But it has been terrifying just about every step of the way.

When I got divorced, I was advised for to file for bankruptcy. Our house was upside-down, we had bills out the wazoo, and the only way I could truly, completely sever myself from my husband was to file. As I sat there waiting for my hearing, listening to a man chatting with his attorney about whether he would get keep his boat and/or his cars, I silently pleaded, “Please, just let me walk away from all this. I don’t want a single thing. I just want to be free.”

When I moved 1,000 miles away from family to start a new job and move in with my now-husband, I had never lived more than a few hours away from my parents. I came to a city where I knew one person. And I know it sounds crazy, but I hoped that it would all work out … it had to work out …

Because I didn’t have any kind of backup plan if things went down in flames.

After giving birth to my son in 2015, my husband would remind me, gently, that I didn’t have to go back to work right after my maternity leave ended if I didn’t want to. We talked about the cost of daycare and whether it would make financial sense for me to return to work if all it was going to do was pretty much cover the cost of childcare. What would be the point?

My husband also began nudging me toward my writing, something that had always seemed like just a silly hobby, something to do when school was out during the summer. But I couldn’t help wondering if I could make a living with my writing.

I started thinking that the birth of my son was turning me toward another path.

I began submitting pieces to different websites and getting them posted and published here and there. I hemmed and hawed over whether I should return to work after my maternity leave and requested an additional year-long leave of absence. I started working on my fourth novel. I decided to look for remote freelance work to fill the gaps in my day when our son was taking his naps.

I got a freelance job with a major U.S. newspaper. I finally got up the nerve to resign from my teaching job.

Two years later, with my teaching certificate expired and with no desire to return to the classroom, I’ve started looking to the future with fear and anxiety. Eventually, my son is going to go to school, and I’ll have lots of time on my hands. I’ll probably need to find an actual job. I want to find an actual job again, someday… I just have no idea what I want to do. Besides write, I mean.

I started to wonder if maybe I should go back to school, maybe get a master’s degree in writing. Or journalism. Or something. Something so that I don’t just look like this SAHM who decides to return to the workforce because her kid is going off to kindergarten and she has a lot of time on her hands, only she wants to completely switch career paths and has now decided to chase her dreams of being a writer.

(Um, that actually sounds like a storyline to a novel that I might write.)

My husband, always supportive, always happy to push me along and make me realize my potential, sent me a few links to different graduate programs. Social media here… Business writing there… Novel writing here… All things that I’m interested in. All things that I would consider pursuing. But they all seemed so narrow. Except for this one creative writing and literature program.

Browsing the course catalog and studying the requirements, I began envisioning myself as a student again.

In my head, I was already plotting my thesis. And at the same time, I could feel a lump of anxiety and fear in my chest. There’s no way you can do this. Can we even afford this? Why would he send this to you if we couldn’t afford it? But can you even DO THIS?

When my husband mentioned graduate school a few days later, my face flushed, my chest got all hot and I could feel the tears filling up my eyes. “I wanted to talk to you about that…” I said.

“Did you find something you want to do?”

“Uh… Yeah. Kind of… I just…”

“Are you going top shelf?” he asked, with a knowing smile. I nodded. He knew. Of course, he knew.

A few days later, I locked myself in the conference room in our apartment building to take the online exam required to register for the two introductory classes to my master’s degree. I had done a few practice rounds, I’d read some tips, but since it was a short reading test and an essay, there wasn’t much I could do to prepare.

I took the test.

It was much easier than any of the practice tests I’d taken, and the essay felt like a piece of cake. I returned upstairs to our apartment in a state of shock. And relief. I felt like I’d done really well. I was beyond excited. (And did I mention relieved?)

I was also terrified. If I passed this test, that would mean I would be free to register for class in the fall. If I registered, I would be a student again, for the first time in nearly 20 years, pursuing my master’s degree.

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You must do the thing which you think you cannot do.”

That’s why I’ll be starting class at Harvard in the fall.

Go for it, mamas. Even if it scares the hell out of you. Whatever your IT is… go for it. You can do it. You got this.


Jessica Goodwin lives near Washington, D.C., with her husband, son, and their two cats. She’s written four novels and her work has appeared on Scary Mommy, Baby Gaga, Chocolate & Chaos, Tribe Magazine, Mamalode, and the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Sleep when the baby sleeps? Nope, she’s writing. Follow her on TwitterInstagram and Facebook.

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